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UNC student finds TikTok fame, joy through coding

DTH Photo illustration. Sophomore Ibrahim Shakhtour's COMP 110 Turtle Art project became popular on TikTok.

What started as a video celebrating the completion of a long project for computer science class COMP110, Introduction to Programming, became a viral TikTok within hours. The 59-second video, posted by sophomore Ibrahim Shakhtour, has gotten the attention of around 862.6K views and 183.2K likes in less than a week. 

Shakhtour did not originally plan on posting the TikTok, but he decided to share it with his 60 followers at the time and woke up the next morning TikTok famous. 

“I'm like, 'What on Earth is going on?'” Shakhtour said. “People were posting positive comments and telling me it looks great. It made me feel really good because I spent so long on that project.” 

Shakhtour’s project took approximately 15 hours comprised of 286 lines of code until completion. 

“There were some assignments that were very tedious and it's difficult until you finally get the code to work,” Shakhtour said. “That's basically like that rush of euphoria when you finally get (the code) to work. That's what I love about comp sci.”

Many of the comments on Shakhtour’s video were users sharing their personal experiences with coding, as well as congratulating him on his hard work. One of the top comments acknowledged Shakhtour’s excitement throughout the finished project. 

“I was so happy in the video, and that resonates with a lot of people,” Shakhtour said. “People could connect to the fact that after they finish something so difficult, that's how happy they are, especially people who have programmed.”

The completed project Shakhtour had filmed was for the class’s Turtle Scene, a project where students can make a design by controlling a digital turtle by giving it instructions for its movement. The turtle drags a marker as it moves and is able to jump around the canvas, filling in the shapes. 

The course is trying out the Python programming language for the first time, which teaching assistant professor Kris Jordan said is well suited for data science problems. The program includes the turtle feature which students have used to create artwork. 

“One of the early projects we have this semester was a turtle graphics project,” Jordan said. “Students were to design and come up with a theme on their own of their own design for just producing some interesting work of art that has some requirements for how they structured their program.”

Ezri White, an undergraduate teacher assistant for the course, said that over the summer she started tutoring children with this program, specifically the feature of Python with the turtle program. Over the summer, White said they decided to have students do the turtle project. 

“(Turtle is) so visual, it's really easy to put two and two together between the code that you're writing and then what's actually happening on the screen,” White said. “I think it's an exciting project for more visual learners as well.” 

Jordan said that the tradition of programming with turtle graphics in introductory courses has a rich history over the past 50 years. He described the project as a way of looking at the process of writing programs that are structured and have repeating elements. 

“Our idea with projects has been to leave them pretty open-ended,” White said. “So that students can really like get the most out of it and truly express some creativity. I don't know if we were quite expecting the number of students that really put their full effort to this project this semester.”

White said that they invited students to say whether or not they wanted to submit their projects to be displayed somewhere, and soon received an overwhelming 115 students who wanted their designs to be shown. 

The course now has a Museum of Turtle Art page on the course website, displaying the projects students have submitted to be displayed. 

“The joy is palpable,” Jordan said. “I think for anyone who spends time programming, they are very quickly and easily able to relate to that sort of euphoric feeling of seeing your program actually work and doing what you wanted to do.”

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